I’ve come to the realization that I’m a school nerd. I’ve been through all the steps—denial, fear, anger, and eventually acceptance. That’s not what this story is about. I’ve come to terms with my Nerdom. This story is about the bonds that form between nerds, the generation of self-worth, and the feeling when you’re a part of something special.
Hilary Mason is the Chief Scientist of Bit.ly, yes, the website you use to compress URLs and gain insight into social content sharing. When they interview new employees, she asks her current colleagues afterward, “If this person was in the office on a Sunday, would you go in?” Now, going into the office on a Sunday is a necessary evil in our frenetic business environment, but what Mason is looking to do is create a corporate culture where people excite and inspire each other–enough to go into work on the weekends.
Bit.ly is the brain child of what Hilary refers to as “good nerd work,” that is, the breakthrough that occurs when the right people interact syngeristically on the right subject at the right time. But there’s another result of hours spent in the lab or the library together: The bond that is forged between nerds on the verge of discovery.
Chinese food? Check. Equations on the walls? Check. Friends forever? Check.
I know this process all too well. While it can be at times frustrating, exhausting, and leaves one wondering what a normal night’s sleep looks like, I live for these moments, because I love the creative process and the friendships that are forged.
Hard Work Pays Off
As the Lester Bangs character says in Almost Famous, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is the what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
I don’t mean the term “nerd” in a pejorative way. I mean it as people who are endlessly curious while not being overly concerned about being cool. Nerds are individuals with passions, but in the sheer excitement of their pursuit of passion, may come off as dorky. I myself have been known to break out into my self-proclaimed “nerd dance” to celebrate an epiphany or achievement, much like an NFL player after scoring a touchdown.
I’ve spent many a late night in high school, college, and in my current career in a crunch session. It’s beyond exciting. To a degree, how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak must’ve felt when they formed Apple, Inc. Or maybe I make this comparison because I shameless hope one day make billions of dollars from a consumer product that transforms culture and revolutionizes communication.
In high school, I participated in after school activities like cheerleading and student council. By John Hughes movie standards, this means I would’ve been popular.
I’m most likely a mix of the Alley Sheedy and the Anthony Michael Hall character.
It didn’t. Trust me, winning the eleventh grade AP English Composition award pretty much put a sign around your neck that says, “too many feelings” and “a future in cats.” Winning the award got me into a good college; it did not get me asked out.
My real friends in high school were the people who cared about going to a selective college as much as I did, which was a lot and borderlined on the unhealthy. After we graduated, my friends went to schools like Emory, Dartmouth, and University of Southern California, and they’re the ones I keep up with til this day.
We were not nerds per say because we were all well-rounded in that “these extracurriculars will look great on my college application” kind of way, but at the end of the day, what we really cared about was academics. Long afternoons were spent on the phone trying to figure out geometry proofs as were bus rides drilling each other on Bismarckian diplomacy and nineteenth century German unification. These intense study sessions were just a part of the landscape, one part out of necessity and the fear of failure, but also the fact we actually wanted to help each other succeed.
Late night study groups in college looked similar. We were well acquainted with the delirium that occurs with your friends when you’re simultaneously freaking out before tests and erupting into fits of giggles, the by-product of exhaustion and being overly caffeinated.
Your study group.
My study group: Nerds disguised as hot girls. From left to right: Me, current surgical resident at University of Kentucky, magna cum laude Vandy grad, Northwestern Law grad. Obviously, this was taken not while we were studying (as evidenced by the margaritas) because if I put a picture up our our real study sessions, which involved no make-up and pajamas, these girls would rightfully murder me.
Friend study groups thankfully have graduated to the business world with me. The result of having fun on a project is working harder, staying later, better ideas, more innovative products, and stronger office synergy.
Hilary Mason remarked sagaciously during her talk, “Creativity is the step adjacent to expectations.” These creative jam sessions potentially evolve into something big. Somebody makes a joke, but actually, that joke in all of its ridiculousness has a kernel of validity which evolves into a better solution.
The past year has been a tipping point in my career. On the paid side, I started working for a company that makes an alternative keyboard for persons with special needs. If you’ve ever worked for a tech start-up, you know how it is—you work your tail off, but at the end of the day, you “own” it. My boss also fosters a “think tank”-like atmosphere and actually listens to my opinions, which, honestly, is incredibly refreshing.
On the unpaid side, I was invited to become a committee member of Tech Thursday events at Urban Rethink, a progressive co-working space that emphasizes collaboration between disciplines such as art, science, technology, and community. Even though it is volunteer work, it is incredibly rewarding, as I’ve met incredible people and have been able to continue in my Nerdom.
In essence, I feel like I’m a part of a social movement. I imagine people in the youth counterculture of the 1960s feeling like this. There’s a community of support and sharing ideas. I’m a part of a new social movement, and I don’t know exactly what that really is. We’re not speaking out against a war or inequality. We’re not even rebelling against the establishment. We’re rethinking it.
Business as we know is changing. People are more mobile. Ideas are more accessible. This inevitably changes the economic ecosystem.
Mason spoke to this in her lecture. She is the founder of Hack NY, a non-profit which pairs gifted college graduates with interesting start-ups, thereby saving them from the narrow options which exist currently for math minds such as finance, consulting, and academia.
I didn’t take the traditional route and become a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker, and that’s OK. I may still do that later in life. Who knows? We don’t know what the future holds, and by the time we figure it out, it’s going to change again anyway. I don’t know what my career will ultimately look like, but what I’ve learned is that you to be corporate to be a good business.
Creativity: A Love Story
In The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron writes that creativity is self-sustaining. I have a wonderful boyfriend, an amazing friend group, and an incredible, supportive family, but none of them can give me the unique satisfaction of a job well done. The inspiration I create for myself can only be self-created.
Inspiration is like a love story. You “meet” this idea in your head, and you fall in love with it. You get butterflies from the hope and promise of teetering on the precipice of discovery. Have you found “The One?” Or will this new idea eventually break your heart? This chaotic, unfolding narrative, which no one really sees, is crucial to the nerd’s self-worth.
Do my favorite Friday nights include catching up on Pinterest, yoga, and Glee? Yes. Did my Valentine’s Day table conversation involve programming languages such as C++ and WordPress HTML? Yes. Find your tribe consisting of people who are comfortable enough with themselves to let their passions unabashedly show through. Then you can go to Barnes and Noble afterward.